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New Jersey's queer revolution is said to have started at The Den, a Somerset bar that began as a haven for the avant-garde in New Brunswick in 1944. Later in 1961, the venue became a symbol for gay liberation in the state when the Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) revoked the bar's license, citing "foul, filthy, indecent or obscene language or conduct" and "lewd or immoral activity" as its justification. In the case of The Den (then known as "Manny's Den") prosecutors used several rules from the State Commissioner's regulations concerning alcohol after Prohibition to forbid "the congregation of apparent homosexuals" (source: outhistory.org, outinjersey.net). It wasn't until 1967—the same year as the Loving decision and two years before Stonewall—that the state Supreme Court would reverse the discriminatory decision. In the LGBT civil liberties column, New Jersey respects its workers and opens up adoption, regardless of orientation. To most of us this makes perfect sense. What's difficult to understand is that so many of those same LGBT workers and would-be parents are not yet respected enough to partake in the benefits of marriage. Currently nine states and the District of Columbia have the freedom to marry for same-sex couples (source: freedomtomarry.org), so it's tough to imagine a state with so much progress failing in the category of family creation and security. But what is also hard to believe is that any future marriage equality victory achieved in the state will have come, in part, because of the Church.

1997 The New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services policy of denying consent to joint adoption by unmarried couples is changed, indirectly granting adoption rights to same-sex couples. 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously rules in favor of marriage equality. The decision whether to rewrite marriage law or write civil union law is left to the legislature, which leads to civil unions. New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination is amended to include “gender identity and expression.” 2010 Governor Chris Christie vetoes a same-sex marriage bill previously passed by the state Assembly.

In 1987, an Episcopal Bishop by the name of John Shelby Spong sought to recognize and bless "non marital relationships, including those between homosexuals," but was met with resistance from 22 fellow New Jersey Episcopalians who filed ecclesiastical (religious or spiritual-related) charges against him. With the charges later dismissed, Bishop Spong argued that the Church's treatment of homosexuals was immoral. Shortly after, the Church reassessed its view of homosexuality, and in 1988 the policy to bless same-sex couples was approved, proving that allies sometimes come from the unlikeliest of places (source: outhistory.org). Fifteen years later, the state has yet to grant same-sex couples the freedom to marry. New Jersey's first openly gay legislator, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D), has introduced a bill that would put the issue before voters—a controversial measure the Governor said he would support when he shot down marriage equality in 2012. Now, with the first female Democratic Governor in the state now up for election, let’s see if New Jersey is poised to lead once again. Edward Truth is a New York City-based journalist and critical theorist. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardTruth.

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Profile for Connextions Magazine

Connextions Magazine - Issue 10 - NJ  

Features include: New Jersey travel highlights, including Atlantic City, Jersey City, Wildwoods & Asbury Park; Gay Family Travel; Health & W...

Connextions Magazine - Issue 10 - NJ  

Features include: New Jersey travel highlights, including Atlantic City, Jersey City, Wildwoods & Asbury Park; Gay Family Travel; Health & W...